Addressing the physician burnout epidemic as a whole requires many innovative solutions, and it can’t be done one physician at a time. Hospitals and practices need to think of the big picture. Paul DeChant, MD, PHD, deputy chief health officer for IBM Watson Health in California, favors a Lean approach.
The Lean process emphasizes reducing waste and improving customer value. The methodology was pioneered by the car company Toyota in the 1930s and has been used successfully in many kinds of business, now including healthcare.
Lean is intended to remove waste from workflows, but what makes it a success in a field like healthcare are two key principles, DeChant explains. “One is continuous improvement,” he says, which refers to the work of streamlining workflows and improving communication. “More important is respect for people, for the work they are doing. We rarely give them the opportunity to tap into that knowledge and expertise.”
DeChant has seen Lean work in healthcare systems where they do more than just remove wasteful processes but stop and think about what motivates clinicians. “The motivation is to provide a great healing interaction with the patient,” he says.
The Lean approach removes barriers and frustrations from the workflow process. First a team or a system has to identify the problems and take action on them sooner rather than later. One method for this he suggests is creating a “huddle board.”
There, “I can make a note about [a problem], tack it on the huddle board quickly, so as not to interrupt the flow of my current day, and the next morning talk about it with the rest of the team,” DeChant says. If others share the problem, they can begin to work on it right away to prevent future recurrences.